Pursuing the whole story

I wrote about losing Princess Peach this weekend. It was excruciating. A friend told me recently that she’s been pondering the word “debridement” (the scouring exfoliation done to patients who’ve been severely burned), and afterwords I realized that this is exactly what it felt like: Taking a rough brush to the places I’d been burned.

Princess Peach had a wonderful therapist when she was with us. One of the things she taught me is that when we’ve been through chaos, our hearts and minds call out for a narrative…a story to make sense of what we’ve been through. Much of our work with this therapist was around providing Princess Peach with a story to help organize what she knew about her life.

At some level, Steve and I have been engaged in the same process for a few years now, around this and a few other things: wondering What was that about? Could we have prevented what happened? What’s the best way to move forward? 

I have a lot of experience with starting over. These questions are not new to me. And the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I can’t just drum up my own answers. Sometimes they take awhile to fall into place, before I can see the coherent storyline I crave.

When I’m in the middle of this process, I always blame myself for my lack of cognitive organizational abilities. I just want to say, “Okay, HERE is what happened, and THIS is more or less why, and HERE is what I’m making of it, and so OFF I go into the rest of my life…” (Picture me clapping my hands together twice in a “That’s all done, now moving on!” gesture).

Which is a tremendous plan, one I can totally work with…just as soon as I have the pieces. But the truth about hurt and loss and chaos is that pieces are missing. We’re all working with an incomplete puzzle. Writing is the primary way I navigate this. I use words to check in on the state of my story, knowing that if there isn’t a satisfying ending yet, then it’s not the end.

If you read any good book on novel writing, it will hammer home this point…readers HATE a book that fails to tie up loose ends, or leaves you not knowing if a character will be okay. We crave closure, the full experience of the narrative arc. When a story fails to provide this, we feel cheated. I’ve found this to be even more true in real life than in fiction.

For the longest time, my missing piece has been our craving for evidence that anything works in our state’s child welfare system. I begged people to show me success stories. But NOTHING. On top of that, we’ve been inundated by tragic stories in the news about myriad systemic failures. It’s just all felt so grim.

And then last summer, God prompted both Steve and me – separately – to consider diving back in to see if we could adopt some kids. Friends of ours had adopted three awesome siblings. (I want to write “rescued” there, because that’s what it feels like…and I don’t even mean rescued from a bad birth parent situation, but rather rescued from a complex governmental system that sometimes seems to do more harm than good.) Watching their story unfold, we saw a satisfying ending, a time where the system worked. Seeing our friends’ story gave us a way to go after a more satisfying ending of our own.

Sometimes you need someone else to have a big win to remind you that it’s possible.

Today, if you’re feeling hopeless and win-less, ask God for the missing pieces. As Him for a big win.

I’m serious. Ask Him directly for your next step, for narrative order, for the full arc of the story, including the satisfying ending. Ask for the type of closure that points and pushes you out toward exciting and/or terrifying next steps, and freedom from things that might try to hold you back.

I guess what I’m saying is, ask God to be God, the author of our lives. I’ve found that He responds in interesting ways to this invitation.


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